“If someone said to me that you can have three wishes, my first would have been to get into racing, my second to be in Formula 1, my third to drive for Ferrari.” – Gilles Villeneuve
Villeneuve’s view of Ferrari’s place in racing is shared by the vast majority of drivers. As Sebastian Vettel recently put it, “…if you asked the 24 drivers in Formula One if they would like to go to Ferrari in their career, all 24 would say ‘yeah, clearly’, and it is the same with me.” Yet, Mark Webber chose not to go to Ferrari in 2013, and instead re-signed with Red Bull.
On the face of it, Webber’s decision might seem sound. Red Bull have had the best car for the last two seasons, and their 2012 car is gradually beginning to pull away in the development race at the front of the field. Red Bull have legendary designer Adrian Newey shaping their impressive aerodynamics, and with Newey showing no signs of leaving, it is likely that next year’s RB9 will be just as competitive as this year’s RB8.
Perhaps Webber was wary of being number two to Fernando Alonso. Although he has yet to be World Champion, Webber is no slouch behind the wheel, as his two wins so far in 2012 show. He would not want to find himself in the position of Felipe Massa, who is very clearly the second Ferrari driver.
But the upside to driving for Ferrari is just so enormous, it makes no sense that Webber would choose not to go there. Ferrari has resources that no other team can match, and they are showing it this season with the development of the F2012. The car started the year well off the pace, and in less than half a season has become a front-runner, with Fernando Alonso now leading the championship.
Aside from the financial implications of a move to Ferrari, the team is so steeped in Formula One history that any driver would want to become associated with the famous marque. Consider the great drivers who have driven for Ferrari: Schumacher, Fangio, Prost, Lauda, Alonso, Farina, Andretti, Scheckter and Hawthorn are but a few of the legendary names to have raced for the most famous of Formula One teams.
Ferrari have the largest following in Formula One, with fans all over the world, so much so that every race must feel like a home race for a Ferrari driver. Racing for Ferrari at Monza must be a remarkable experience, as the tifosi cover every possible spectator space around the circuit, adorned with Ferrari clothing, flags and signs in support of their heroes.
If making it to Formula One is the dream of racing drivers, then racing for Ferrari is the dream of Formula One drivers. Webber had the chance to realise that dream, and he let it go. The opportunity is unlikely to come again.